18 AUGUST 1990, Page 49

New life

Vive la difference

Zenga Longmore

Now that she's six, my niece Kuba has reached an astonishing level of maturity. A few days ago, as we gazed at sprawling Brixton from my balcony, she revealed 'that she knew the difference between boys and girls.

`So do I, I do,' piped up her three-year- old sister Comfort.

'No you don't, not the real difference.' 'Do so too.'

'What is it, then?'

'Boys have got, urn, urn, wait a minute — boys have got, um, got, got . . . boys watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and girls, right, girls don't.'

Kuba gave me one of those woman-to- woman looks, then shot Comfort the con- temptuous expression that a trained circus poodle might give to a mongrel who has just learnt to beg.

'Yes, Comfort, very good, [in a whisper] but I know the real difference.'

I shuddered. Was I about to hear the playground revelations of Coojay McNab, or worse, the classroom revelations of Ms Lambert, Kuba's a la mode student teacher?

'Comfort,' began Kuba, 'take Omalara into the front room and play with some- thing noisy. . . . Now I'll tell you. Look at your nails.' I did so. 'See! You're a girl! Girls look at their nails with their fingers straight out, but boys look at their nails with their fists closed. Told you, innit! I know.'

I collected Omalara from her position by the stereo, where she was playing with Comfort, turning the volume of Radio 1 up to discothequian proportions. Although Kuba's test has a very low failure rate, there is an easier way to tell men from women which concerns neither fingers nor nails.

It's all to do with babies. A woman will instinctively want to hold a baby, whereas a man, with a great deal of pomp and pride, will announce: 'I can't possibly pick her up. Babies always cry when I hold them.' What they really mean, of course, is that they are afraid the baby will wet their trousers, although how they think a baby can wet anyone through a nappy is quite beyond me.

In the midst of my meditations, Olumba strode through the door with cans of 7-Up for the children and swept Omalara into his arms. My theory instantly went down the rubbish chute. Maybe it's only Englishmen who harbour a fear of children under 14. I have yet to meet an African man who does not find delight in a baby. Even Uncle Bisi, when about to sit on Omalara, realising his mistake, has picked her up with a fond, if not doting expression.

Mind you, Omalara's latest achievement is enough to daunt the most affectionate of men. She has learnt, from where I cannot imagine, to alter her usual merry counte- nance into an horrendous steely glare. I can't decide whether she tries her evil eye out at random, or uses it purposefully, in order to frighten the glaree into acquiesc- ing to her telepathic demands. If only Shuddup Hussein (or whatever his name is) could harness the power behind that glare, he would be able to burn a chain of five-foot holes through the iron-bound hulls of the entire American fleet.